Church Visits

Visiting Churches: Chris Thompson (stainedglass) is an amateur Alaskan biblical scholar and student of religion, especially as it relates to popular culture. He regularly attends national and regional American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature events to interact with and learn from worldwide religion scholars. Through unannounced mystery visits to churches in Anchorage and South-Central Alaska, he observes how guests (visitors) are treated during this initial church visit. Research indicates guests first visit perceptions affects further spiritual growth and religious attitudes as they search for a church home. Chris' church visits focus primarily on Christian churches. This blog contains accounts of those visits, and related posts about religion in culture. Chris looks for the following in his visits:

•Genuine welcome, true Christian hospitality

•Friendliness and warmth

•Effective, well-delivered, Bible-based, main teaching

•Music deepening the worship, not just entertainment

Google map of churches Chris Thompson has visited.

Follow my Church Visits posts on Twitter

Chris Thompson’s email: churchvisits@gmail.com

Significant 2013 Church Visits Posts

Top Ten Issues Local Churches Must Address in 2013

Ten Things Churches Did That Blew Me Away In 2012

Guest Post: Why Theology Matters to Musicians

Church Visits: What do millennials look for in worship? - 4/11/2014 10:29 pm

Church Visits: Visits to 2 churches leave 2 different impressions - 4/4/2014 9:19 pm

Church Visits: Research underscores deeper church attendance issues - 3/28/2014 9:19 pm

Church Visits: It's time we get back to observing the Sabbath - 3/21/2014 8:30 pm

Church Visits: Look deeper into Lent than just 'give-ups' - 3/14/2014 10:37 pm

First Congregational Church Revisit: Not Bad - Room to Grow - 3/14/2014 11:23 am

Church Visits: Pastors mark start of Lent by taking ashes to the people - 3/8/2014 10:56 am

Church Visits: Tools for finding the right church for you - 3/1/2014 3:03 pm

Jewel Lake Nazarene – Hard to Describe

Follow my church visit activity at Twitter.com/ChurchVisits

Looked Like It Was Closed
A recent visit to Jewel Lake Community Church of the Nazarene was interesting but full of contradictions. Located just off Jewel Lake Road a half block west on 88th, it’s easy to find.Jewel Lake Nazarene –  Empty Parking Lot (note sign)Jewel Lake Nazarene – Empty Parking Lot (note sign)
But, approaching the church, I thought it closed as there were just 1 or 2 cars in the east parking lot. Almost turning around and leaving, I continued on discovering some cars in the west parking lot. A sign on 88th directing guests “TO ENTRANCE” might be helpful. (The picture above is a Google map picture. The church can easily correct this map, picture, and details through direct contact with Google.)

Weak Greeting
A sole greeter shook my hand on that November 4 visit. I asked if there was a bulletin and he gestured to a podium in the entrance where several were stacked up. There were several other folks standing close by in the lobby of the gymnasium style church, but there was no conversation or eye contact with me. They all seemed wrapped up in their conversations. As I entered the sanctuary another man said hello, gave his name, asked for mine, and I gave it. As it was the website advertised time for worship, I asked him if I was late or the service over as there were so few people present. It truly felt as though there was no imminent service. He turned around, squinted at the clock and said “right on time”.

Late Start
Finding a seat in the rear, I waited patiently close to 10 minutes more until the service started with music. A praise band consisting of an electric guitar, electric bass, drums, piano, and two vocalists started playing and singing with screen-projected lyrics. All of the music was unfamiliar to me but was surprisingly loud with up to 105 decibels noted by my sound app. For the 40-50 worshipers present, I can’t believe that sound level was not annoyingly loud for them as it was for me. I’ve observed that performances at the PAC are often 85-95 db and comfortably heard by those paying good money for top-notch entertainment.

All were asked to stand for reading of scripture, and opening prayer by the pastor. He also took this opportunity to describe the just finished ’40 hours of prayer’ and other matters of interest to the church.

During the ensuing lengthy meet n’ greet, I was greeted by around 10 or so people but surprisingly, as one of the few apparent visitors, not by the pastor who went to the back and avoided greeting me.

Unusual Pastoral Delivery
The pastor, CJ Williamson, obviously fairly new at this, had a folksy, homespun way of speaking which you can hear at your leisure by clicking HERE . A couple of his remarks stood out and somewhat startled me. He mentioned that the election was coming up and acknowledged he wouldn't use the pulpit to interfere noting “…separation of state, and all that hooey”, but urged that people let God lead them in their voting. I'm sure the founding fathers would have appreciated their hard-fought battles regarding freedom of religion as "...all that hooey".

During the sermon, Williamson prefaced his remarks with an incredibly frank story of his retail management experience using some extremely derogatory terms about his perceptions of what type of people customers were. I was tempted to get up and leave at this point as his descriptions of customers were extremely uncharitable.

One hoped he didn't feel the same, or describe those he was working with in his ministry, in similar terms. He is an interesting speaker, but got carried away in the moment. Another remark posited that if Jesus were alive today, billions of people would demand that He be put to death. It seemed a little harsh and overly presumptive. I think indifference to Jesus' ministry is a bigger issue than putting Him to death. Although many of Pastor Williamson’s thoughts were good, his unusual stories, examples, and manner of sharing them detracted from his theme.Williamson PreachingWilliamson Preaching

Distracting Background Music
During the pastor’s prayer, the guitarist noodled away on his electric guitar, so much so that it was hard to hear and concentrate on the pastor’s words. This modern practice does more to divert people’s attention away from a critical part of the service than hardly any other thing I can think of.

Self-Service Communion
Communion was presented, self-service style, by worshipers going forward to get the bread and wine elements, and returning to one’s seat to partake of them at the appropriate time. Once again, music started playing but this time the piano. This music, too, competed with the pastor’s spoken words at this solemn moment of commemoration making it difficult to hear him.

Lengthy Service
The service ran over 1 ½ hours. I finally had to leave before it completed. This church didn't feel visitor friendly, and appears to be unsure of how to deal with them. Most of the music was presented after the sermon, and accounted for over 1/3 of the service, a long time! Although the sermon was Bible-based, a considerable amount of material was devoted to embellishments and examples which were not. I did not note any specific words of greetings to guests, a major omission for any church. Even the potluck was only announced as being for "everyone", even if you hadn’t brought anything. Guests should have been specifically invited, and urged to stay so the church could meet them and get to know them. In leaving, I noticed the pastor was standing in the back but seemed to take no note of someone slipping away in plain sight. Most first-time guests to a church make their 2nd visit decisions in their first 5-8 minutes after arrival. What do you think my decision might have been?

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